Why does 'election 2010' remind me of AD 54?
When Nero came to the Roman throne in 54 (thanks, scurrilous rumour had it, to his mother administering those poisoned mushrooms to his stepfather, emperor Claudius), his first job was to give a eulogy of his predecessor.
It was an eloquent address, according to Tacitus (Annals XIII, 3), even if a bit over the top on the old man's foresight and wisdom. The real trouble was that Nero hadn't actually written it; it had been run up for him by his old tutor Seneca. Some senators tutted: Nero, they observed, was the first emperor to "have to borrow someone else's eloquence".
The next stop was the senate, where Nero made another well targeted oration, full of vacuous but heart warming slogans, aimed to please to assembled Roman political aristocracy.He brought to the job, he assured them, no grudges . . . . there would be no bribery and corruption in his administration, he would keep his own household quite separate from the affairs of state, the senate would exercise its old prerogatives.
"Nor was the pledge dishonoured" remarks Tacitus archly (Annals XIII, 5), and goes on to list a few things done on the senate's initiative. But within a few lines he has given the game away. The senate starting meeting in the palace, so that Nero's mother Agrippina could listen to proceedings from behind a curtain. So much for the separation of household and affairs of state. And as if to rub the point home, Tacitus uses the same Latin word, discreta/m for the separation of public and private business, and the separation of Agrippina behind her curtain.
OK -- so hardly an election, but what is the similarity between then and now?
Borrowed eloquence, for a start.
I don't know when ministers and shadow ministers started publishing articles in national newspapers that they couldn't possibly have written -- probably not even read. But I have had quite enough of ghosted articles by the front bench teams in the Guardian and elsewhere, I wouldn't mind so much if they had written this stuff themselves, but when it's an office job, done by an 'aide'. . . .
Much of the rest of what we are getting promised is nor more likely to be delivered on than Nero's promises ("no more boom and bust" the young emperor might just as well have said). The rhetoric of our leaders is probably even worse, for they are promising things that they have no business to be. I don't want Ed Balls to be telling me that he will be ensuring that kids who fall behind in English and Maths will get extra teaching. I want schools to have enough money and capacity so that teaches can make that kind of decision themselves.
And at least the Romans didn't have to put up with a televised debate (though a head to head between Nero and Britannicus could have been fun). I haven't understood why people are so keen on the Brown, Cameron, Clegg show. Watching the presidential debates in the USA in 2008, I found them so choreographed as to be almost worthless. We were all just waiting for these overprepared mouthpieces to make a slip, like watching the high wire act. A triumph of PR masquerading as democracy.
<Those who have been following my trouble to write a paper for the USA: I did eventually get A POINT and I was writing quite well....when I watched the weather forecast and decided that I would have to spend a night at the airport if I wanted to beat the snow. So the second half got rather hurriedly written -- and this is from the Sofitel Heathrow.>